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How Swap And Share Experiences Are Changing Travel – Forbes


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By Deb Landau

The sharing economy is changing the way vacationers plan and experience travel.

It’s a simple concept streamlined and powered by technology: You own something that you don’t use all the time, so why not rent it out? Online platforms provide the marketplace and functionality. Myriad online payment options add legitimacy and security, while social media platforms that let people communicate with and rate one another reduce anonymity.

Airbnb alone has grown to be worth roughly $38 billion in just a decade, with listings in more than 81,000 cities across 191 countries.Getty

Numbers reflecting the size of the industry show how sharing has disrupted traditional business. A 2017 study by Juniper Research found that revenue generated by people swapping, sharing, trading or renting assets like apartments and cars reached $18.6 billion that year. It predicted revenues would more than double — to $40.2 billion — by 2022. While travel is not the only area contributing to this growth, it’s a big part of it. Airbnb alone has grown to be worth roughly $38 billion in just a decade, with listings in more than 81,000 cities across 191 countries.  

Early examples of sharing platforms, such as Airbnb, Uber and Lyft, completely changed how most people travel, according to Dan Peltier, a tourism reporter at Skift, which provides news, research and marketing services for the travel industry.

“Airbnb brought a totally new level of comfort and intimacy that goes beyond the hotel experience,” he said. “It allows visitors to interact with locals and learn more about daily life in whatever place they’re visiting.”

Sharing-Friendly Tech 

The idea behind the sharing economy certainly isn’t new, but technologies now allow for faster, easier and more personal peer-to-peer interactions, even with people on the other side of the world.

According to a recent CMO.com article, “The sharing economy has disrupted the travel and hospitality industry almost as much as the arrival of the Internet affected the way airlines and travel agencies do business.”

Millennials, now the world’s largest demographic, are wholeheartedly embracing a world of tech-mediated sharing. Some 60 percent of Airbnb’s customers are Millennials, and that number grows year over year. An Airbnb study found that more than 80 percent of this age group want a unique, adventurous travel experience and that they prefer to stay in “cool, local neighborhoods” rather than touristy areas.

“A lot of Millennials are now turning to the sharing economy, not only to use it as a traveler or a consumer, but to work in it,” Peltier said. Already accustomed to the digital and social media landscape, Millennials easily adopted digitally driven peer-to-peer interactions.

In addition to being digital natives, Peltier said, the Millennial generation was defined by several key events — especially the trauma of 9/11 and the gut-punches of a recession and graduating from college in a slumping job market. It’s a generation that came to realize that the traditional ways of doing things — from business to dating to travel — were up for renegotiation. 

“Coming out of those dramatic and traumatic events has inspired Millennials to live life to the fullest,” Peltier said.  

“There’s a sense of why wait? Why put off going to X far-flung destination if you can do it today?”

-Dan Peltier, tourism reporter at Skift

Digital Sharing Platforms For Every Taste 

New sharing-based businesses are cropping up every day. Airbnb’s huge valuation and profitability have lured other companies into the market, with pop-up hostels and higher-end Airbnb-style sites giving consumers even more alternatives to traditional hotels.

HomeAway specializes in beachfront cabins and other vacation properties. Vacation rental finder FlipKey bloomed out of the TripAdvisor community, while Homestay offers rooms in people’s homes.

Sharing-based mobility solutions for tourists and locals are also expanding rapidly.

In the realm of four-wheeled travel, in addition to Lyft and Uber, there’s Zipcar, Car2Go, Getaround and BlaBlaCar, a long-distance carpooling platform. Scoot offers electric vehicle shares, while DriveShare specializes in vintage and luxury options.

The same can be said for two-wheeled options. As this map of bike-sharing services worldwide shows, almost every city now has a smart bike-sharing system. So it’s possible to borrow a road bike in Italy or a mountain bike in Moab. And electric scooters are available from Bird and Lime with the touch of an app in a growing number of cities.

The range of sites streamlining the exchange of goods — from fishing gear and camping equipment to mountain bikes and skis — is also rapidly increasing. Antlos and Boatsetter are like Airbnb for boats. Other companies, including NetJets and Flexjet, let people share ownership of private jets.

Accessibility, Accountability And Connection

“The sharing economy has really made travel much more accessible to everyone,” Peltier said.

He noted that online platforms offer modern travelers transparency, connection and a sense of shared values. In other words, knowing there’s a human being on the other end of an Airbnb booking — or any other online interaction — often improves the user’s experience.

Millennials are also changing the business of travel in another way.

Empowered by the ability to easily leave public reviews and consumer feedback online, the group is forcing companies to take stands on social issues they might otherwise shy away from. Peltier said organizations such as Airbnb and Expedia have made statements against the Muslim travel ban, while Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson has been vocal about politics, standing up for minorities and explicitly welcoming everybody into the company’s hotels. Recently, Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian banned hate groups from its properties.

“Travel and hospitality companies know that if they want to stay competitive they have to appear progressive, welcoming and accommodating to everyone,” Peltier said.

The sharing economy is rapidly evolving. Most of the players in it didn’t even exist a decade ago. Yet, as more people embrace the concept of sharing and swapping, we can expect that this nascent industry will likely look very different as it continues to adapt and expand. The personal and experiential approach it provides to users is good news for travelers on both sides of the sharing equation.

Deb Landau is a writer, editor and video producer who has traveled through all intersections of publishing — from writing guidebooks for Lonely Planet Publications to teaching magazine writing. She is a passionate outdoor enthusiast and lives in Portland, Oregon.

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